Sony is moving to create it’s own online content and is launching this effort with a new series POWERS based on the amazing hit comic series written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Avon Oeming. This new series gives us an idea of what to expect from Sony in the future.
Spoiler – it’s gonna be bad times.
Now, I’m not someone who expects translations of comics or books into movies or TV series to slavishly honor the source material. I enjoyed Paul Verhoeven’s movie ‘Starship Troopers’ while recognizing that it only drew inspiration from Robert Heinlein’s novel at best. What I do expect is at least competency, but we don’t get that in ‘Powers’.
The comic series is about veteran detective Christian Walker who is on the ‘Powers’ squad of the Chicago police department. Think ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ but with super heroes. It opens with him taking on a new partner, Deena Pilgrim, just as they get handed an assignment to solve the murder of one of the most famous super heroes in their world. Over the course of several story arcs this mystery is solved, others arise, larger story arcs arise and are resolved and play out. It’s a smart, post-modern, examination of what it super heroes would be like in a more realistic world where heroes suffer PTSD, burn out, or go insane. It unflinchingly shows the difficulties regular society has in dealing with heroes and villains who have powers that most of the populace lack. The series also looked inwards on the tropes of comic book heroes as well and found new and original treatments on these as well.
The TV series, as presented in it’s pilot episode and trailer for the rest of the season isn’t this at all. Instead they mined the comic for the characters, while ignoring nearly every bit of their back stories. They took dialogue and used it in different scenes. The plots are pretty much all gone or likely to be altered unrecognizably. I can safely say this because the first episode alters so many basic elements that it would be near impossible to recover from this and keep any of the inventive multilayer arcs the comic series created.
The pilot episode is wholly original to the show and is typical simplistic Hollywood writing. Location is moved to LA. Characters aren’t motivated by each other and the story – they simply move around and react as the script demands. Christian Walker’s pre-Deena partner is killed in the opening (he doesn’t exist as such in the comic) because he tries to take a phone call while locking up a deranged bad guy with powers and misses every possible clue that the guy’s multiple sedatives are wearing off. (how they expected a guy who could shake off 4-5 sedative darts could be held in a prison cell anyway isn’t explained – but this is almost the least of the logical errors in this show). The captain leaves the gore on the walls and floor until after his meeting with Deena so he can show her how dangerous things can get. Let’s forget the fact that the gore would utterly traumatize the dead man’s coworkers, because this is not smart writing here and a smarter writer would have realized this.
I could go on and on. I won’t. Suffice to say that every well thought-out element of the ‘Powers’ universe was ignored in this show. Characters who should be dead are alive. Characters that should be alive for future story arcs are dead. Back stories that have rich payoffs in the comic, are gone and replaced with simplistic hack writing that is clearly going for the now-overused ‘soap opera’ approach of building a season-long story arc that everyone will guess the resolution of when watching the coming season footage.
A good director might still be able to do something this. We didn’t get a good director. Not even a good cinematographer or CG FX unit.
The direction is standard TV direction. It gets you from the first page to the final page of the script. The cinematography varies quite a bit. You get the idea that they lit every scene with no idea of an overall tone for the series. The shame of this is that when Bendis was creating this he had the artist Oeming watch the famous documentary VISIONS IN LIGHT and they created a modern film noir look for the comic that was reminiscent of the best of the Batman Animated TV show. The TV show had a visual bible they could have drawn from to create a unique visual language for the show and they simply ignored it.
The CGI crew are no better as they don’t understand basic gravitational physics (which, fercrisakes, is usually a built-in feature in CG software these days!) and parallax. So when you see heroes leaping from building to building in the background, or in a scene viewed through a window, they look sped up to 3x normal speed and move inconsistently to the foreground elements. The compositing is poorly handling getting colors wrong, draining color depth and color saturation from scenes. The end result is jarring.
The sets are passable but oddly chosen. The squad room interiors serve but they are a converted post office we’re told. We see Walker’s apartment but spend more time in this one episode in his apartment than the entire comic run did – and it’s too upscale to fit the character anyway. Various clubs and other locations are fine for the interiors – but the exteriors seem to be a random collection of available buildings that at best get a new door frame roughly slapped onto them. At worst, they don’t match the interiors whatsoever.
The costume department pretty much ignored most elements of the comic as well but here it’s not bad. In many cases it’s very likely they were trying for a more ‘real’ approach and avoid the overt sexualization common in the comics (even though this is completely a repeating sub-theme in the comic). Nonetheless, I’ll give them a passing grade on the costumes.
The acting is surprising good, but then, they did cast good actors. Congratulations to the cast and casting director. Unfortunately they have to spout utterly inane dialogue that often has them contradicting their own motivations. The chemistry between the two leads (Walker is played by Sharlto Copley and Pilgrim by Susan Heyward) works but is nothing like the chemistry from the comic.
Acting can’t save this show. It’s absolutely terrible and it’s a darned shame because even a minor attempt to use more elements from the comic series would have worked wonderfully.